RAYMOND – In its first ever virtual meeting, the Raymond Central Board of Education passed two resolutions pertaining to the district’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
On March 18, the board met via an online meeting platform to discuss district business but also maintain the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations about social distancing and public gatherings.
Last week the governor began allowing governmental entities to hold virtual and telephone meetings. The meeting was open to the public and linked to a chat group, and participants monitored messages from the public and relayed them to the rest of the board.
Raymond Central administrators sent a message to families on March 16 alerting them that school would not be in session until March 30. At the March 18 board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Derrick Joel said even though he did not have a new recommendation from the local health departments, he was unsure when school would resume.
“I don’t see us coming back on March 30,” he said during the meeting.
Board President Harriet Gould asked if there was a possibility that school could remain closed for the rest of the school year or longer.
“That is an excellent question and something that could definitely happen,” Joel said.
To keep things running during the closure, the school board passed a resolution setting up an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic that authorizes the superintendent to take all necessary actions to keep the district running in the event a meeting of the school board is not possible.
Joel said this resolution was recommended after President Donald J. Trump, Gov. Pete Ricketts and Lancaster County passed emergency declarations last week.
“Essentially, given the time of crisis and emergency that we are in, this just allows the district and the board of education to make decisions on a faster pace than what usually we would need to do through the meeting process,” Joel told the board.
The resolution states that the superintendent is authorized to close or limit access to the facilities, implement a Pandemic Response Plan, implement staff payment procedures, contract with maintenance and cleaning services if needed, carry out nutrition services and food programs, implement distance learning programs, set up work from home procedures and sign contracts or agreements to make emergency expenditures.
The superintendent has this authority until the emergency “has been dealt with to the extent that the conditions no longer exist or the Board of Education ends this resolution…,” according to the resolution.
The second resolution deals with paying the district’s hourly (classified) employees during the closure to ensure that no one leaves their job during the closure, to avoid the spread of the coronavirus and to keep up staff morale.
Employees will be paid for up to four weeks during the temporary closure at their regular pay rate, but not for more hours than they regularly work. If school is still closed after four weeks, the school board will determine whether or not to continue the plan.
“The ultimate goal is to not have an interruption in payroll,” Joel said.
The board also agreed to have classified staff sign a work agreement that Joel said would protect the district and the hourly employees. The agreement says employees may have to do jobs they were not originally hired for.
For example, a paraeducator who had originally been working with a student and teacher may end up doing maintenance or custodial work, the superintendent said.
Joel said the building administrators and the director of operations are putting together a list of work that can be done by the hourly employees.
“I’m sure we’d find means and ways to work with our classified staff,” he said.
Joel said he met with the classified staff on March 16 to discuss the plan and all of the employees were eager to do whatever it would take to make things work.
“And I appreciated that,” he added.
If an employee is not able to work during this time, they can make the hours up at a later date, Joel said. The work agreement says the superintendent shall assign additional work days at their discretion, he said.
For employees with school-aged children who will now be at home instead of school, the option to make up hours could be a benefit. Gould said he was worried about these employees.
“I would feel very badly for an employee who could not come to work because they had no alternative for child care under the circumstances and can’t do a work agreement based on the times you want them there,” she said to Joel.
Originally the district had planned to be closed for only two weeks. Joel said they had designed a Remote Learning Plan that would provide review activities for the students without involving new learning.
Once the closure was extended indefinitely, the direction shifted, Joel said. A Remote Learning Plan was created. Teachers will use Google Classroom and YouTube channels to assign work. Learning opportunities will be connected to a grade level or content standard, the plan says. No grades will be given, but teachers will monitor student learning and provide feedback as they track “essential learning” during the closure.
The closure came just four days into the fourth quarter, Joel said. The Remote Learning Plan states that semester grades are frozen and will not be lower than the third quarter grades.
Joel said teachers are working either in the building or remotely. The Remote Learning Plan says they must be available for phone calls, emails and virtual meetings from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Board Member Matt Blanchard expressed concerns about what children will be doing during the closure.
“We have to do everything we can to educate students while they’re sitting at home,” he said.
Joel said the staff is working together to get resources out to the students.
“We’re kind of in a ‘do whatever it takes’ mentality right now,” he said.
That means finding new ways to engage students using the many resources that are available to teach virtually.
“We’re definitely thinking from a creative standpoint,” said Joel.
The superintendent also informed the board that the district’s buildings are only accessible by staff during the closure.
“All building sites are closed to the community,” he said.